In light of recent school violence, both at Sandy Hook and across the country, local law enforcement is looking to take a tougher and more proactive stance on protecting the children in their district.
And during a Jan. 10 supervisors’ meeting, Richmond County Sheriff Douglas Bryant laid out a plan that would utilize grant money to ensure that every child comes home to their families safe and unharmed.
“In an effort to enhance the public safety, especially in the area of the schools that we have in the county, I did address the problems that could occur in light of the recent shootings that have gone on,” Bryant said. “I have been coordinating with the Department of Corrections (DOC) and we have entered into a memorandum of understanding. They have a tactical unit that is right here in the county that is highly trained.”
According to Bryant, in a joint cooperative effort, the safety on local students could become a realized priority through a grant that would allow not only much needed tactical defense equipment for his department, but also the ability to see what is going on at local schools in real time.
The first part of the operation would allow coordination between DOC personnel, who have trained often in tactical operations within buildings, including prisons and other governmental facilities, to offer their tactical services to Richmond County in the event of an emergency.
“I think that it is a good idea. They can help us and we can help them,” Bryant said.
In conjunction with the inter-departmental cooperation, newly offered state funds could enhance the efforts.
“We are also looking into a grant. It is a one-time, $35,000 equipment grant that’s become available and has to be done by Jan. 31,” Bryant said. “We are seeking to purchase, upon approval of the grant, the tactical vests that go with the other equipment that we acquired on a previous grant.”
Although the department currently has bulletproof vests, the funds would provide equipment that could safeguard deputies from the impact of high power rifles.
“We are seeking to purchase those and are seeking to coordinate with the school system to purchase software that will give us the capability to view the cameras at the school from the sheriff’s office and, very possibly, from our units in the cars,” Bryant said, adding that the measure would enhance the county’s ability to address emergency situations at area schools.
“You will be able to pull a camera up and see what is going on before you even get there,” Bryant said, noting that a his system could be patched to real-time surveillance cameras at the schools.
“This grant is a 90/10 match. So, if you apply for the whole $35,000 it would be a $3,500 match for the county,” Bryant said, noting that the expenditure would not be in effect until the next fiscal year.
“I am also trying to put into to place one of my part-time deputies,” Bryant said, adding that he had already cleared the idea with Superintendent Dr. Greg Smith. “I want to send him down to the schools every day and have him float from one school to the other school, back and forth. We’ve been trying to go to the schools as much as we can to be seen.”
With the regular daytime staff that Bryant has working court complaints and other criteria that the county addresses, Bryant noted that his part-time pool budget line item, which is currently locked by last year’s hiring freeze, would have to be expanded.
“I have part-time funding in my budget right now that I can do this, but my concern is if that I start doing this every day… probably by late April early May, those funds are going to run out,” Bryant said. “So, I would like to make the board aware of what I want to do. It is proactive. There may come a time where I may have to come back to the board and say that my funds have run out.”
He added that he would like to address the issue further during the upcoming year’s budget proposal.
Bryant said that while the General Assembly may be able to financially help with this situation at a later point, it was too early to expect those funds now. He added that the immediate need outweighs the commonwealth’s legislative timeframes.
“This would give us more visibility in each school, every day, all day,” Bryant said.
Noting that the coordination and cooperation between new school security plans and sheriff’s office is encouraging, Dist. 3 Supervisor John Haynes said he fully approved of Bryant’s initiative.
“I would certainly support this as much as I can,” Haynes said. “I think it is being proactive, staying ahead of the curve with the security situation because as you know [after] some of the events that have happened in the country there is a lot of attention on this.”
Haynes added that with the pursuit of the grant, the timing for this program was ideal.
“I think this is great news and I’d like to encourage this as much as I can,” he said. “I guarantee you’ll have a friendly vote in this corner.”
Haynes’ fellow supervisors also agreed, adding that Bryant’s program would have an immediate beneficial impact on the community.
Bryant expects to begin pursuing the added school security measures immediately.